Conversations on the Floor: IPC APEX EXPO 2018

Steve Williams, The Right Approach Consulting LLC | 04-11-2018

This year’s show was one of the best in recent history, both in attendance and enthusiasm. The exhibit floor was sold out, and every single person I talked to was extremely optimistic about business in 2018. What follows are a series of observations and excerpts from conversations I had with some of the most interesting people I met.

Dr. Kunal Shah, Founder of LiloTree

Don’t let his PhD in material science fool you; Dr. Shah is just as likely to sit down with you over a beer and discuss sports as he is nanotechnology. Drawing upon his experience as a scientist with Intel, Shah found a niche as a problem solver for the who’s who of the aerospace and medical industries when he founded liloTree. OEMs and prime contractors come to liloTree to help solve processing and functional problems with both printed circuit boards and electronic components. Like an advanced thirdparty failure analysis lab, liloTree can investigate and determine the root cause of process and product failures. Where liloTree separates themselves is in their ability to solve the problem, either by finding an industry solution that already exists, or by developing one from theground up. The latter path led to the development of an industry game-changer, ENIG-Premium. Tasked with finding a solution for black pad, liloTree developed a proprietary barrier layer between nickel and gold that not only eliminates black pad, but also improves solder joint strength. Further, this proprietary process has applications in the semiconductor industry and is available right now.

Fred Long, Business Development with Matrix

Fred and I spent some time trying to top each other with stories from the “PCB good old days,” and I lost handily! Matrix is a supplier of printed circuit materials to the industry, and our discussion focused on Matrix’s new automation contributions to Industry 4.0, which was the buzz of the show. Fred briefed me on some innovative, automated panel cleaning equipment solutions Matrix released, which is generating a lot of interest. The most interesting development Fred discussed is the new cut sheet laminator and handling equipment that strips off the Mylar from the laminated panel. Literally minutes before I ran into Fred, I was speaking with a PCB client who was at the show solely to look at any new equipment that can reliably strip off Mylar on very thin substrates. He mentioned that he had just left the Matrix booth very excited with their technology.

Sanjay Huprikar, VP of Solutions with IPC

One of the charters of the IPC is to represent the electronics industry globally, and Sanjay was happy to report on the continued growth and expansion of the IPC in Europe. In fact, he mentioned that many of the new IPC standards under development are coming out of the European committees. As one of IPC’s four core pillars, Solutions includes a couple of exciting initiatives—Transportation and Workforce Development. One of the most interesting topics of discussion regarding transportation was the “electronification” of the modern automobile and the high level of PCB integration in the average vehicle. In an unrelated discussion with another client, he mentioned his new Cadillac SUV contained over 300 printed circuit boards! The most important new development from my perspective is the new workforce development program the IPC has rolled out to offer training and skills that the average PCB newbie will need in order to be successful in this industry. We talked about the lack of young people entering the trades and factory work, and that reversing this trend starts with education like IPC is providing.

Leo Lambert, VP/Business Development of EPTAC

EPTAC is the largest provider of IPC training in the United States and is often mistakenly thought of as part of IPC. Leo has been with EPTAC for a couple of decades and has witnessed firsthand the evolution of our industry (another opportunity for me to exchange “back in the day” stories). Most interesting was our discussion on the challenges EPTAC faces with the voluminous amount of constantly changing specifications they must not only be fully up to speed on, but also have training programs developed to support them. With a very compressed timeline from specification release to training requests, EPTAC is in a perpetual education mode. The company now has over 35 training classes to choose from, and 14 physical locations in the U.S. One course that is critical to most of my clients is IPC certification of inspection personnel. However, when asked which class is most popular, Leo said that hand soldering is by far the course that is used the most.

Matt Turpin, President of Zentech

As a client, Matt and I have known each other for quite a while, so I was interested in hearing his thoughts on the overall business climate. Like most of the folks I talked to, he was extremely optimistic at the business prospects for 2018 and beyond. The most interesting discussion we had involved the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, which is U.S. government guidance for private sector organizations that own, operate, or supply critical infrastructure. When I asked Matt, “Isn’t ITAR enough?” he laughed and said, “Not even close.” On a scale of 1-10, ITAR is a “1” and NIST is a “10.” The new NIST requires an order of magnitude higher level of security that covers people, networks, equipment, and infrastructure. Zentech has embraced this, and after spending considerable time, resources, and money in preparation, the company is now compliant. While NIST is officially “voluntary,” not being compliant is certainly a barrier to certain market sectors and customers, and extends throughout the entire supply chain of a company.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Show & Tell Magazine.